In this article, we speak to Andreas Joergensen, Managing Director for SEA Cluster (South, East and Southeast Asia), Organon, to learn more about women’s healthcare concerns and challenges, and discuss reproductive health awareness in Asia.
It goes without saying that male and female bodies are fundamentally different and these sex-based differences affect disease prevention, diagnoses, and treatments. Women’s healthcare looks into female-specific conditions (like gynaecological infections, menopause, reproduction, etc.) and general health conditions that may differentially and/or disproportionately affect women.
As we begin to learn more about and prioritise women’s health, in conjunction with their first anniversary, women’s healthcare company Organon released results from a recent survey they conducted in Singapore aimed at finding out more about the healthcare concerns and challenges facing women in the post-COVID healthcare environment.
In this article, we speak to Andreas Joergensen, Managing Director for SEA Cluster (South, East and Southeast Asia), Organon, to learn more about the survey’s results and discuss reproductive health awareness in Asia.
1. In a largely still-conservative Singapore, reproductive and sexual health are not widely talked about due to stigma and judgement around this topic. Could you outline for us, what is family planning and what are some topics that fall under this umbrella term?
Family planning is having the desired number of children when you want to have them by using safe and effective modern methods. Thus family planning relates to a number of topics including education on reproductive health, access to contraceptives and infertility treatment as well as fighting sexually transmitted infections.
2. Despite the lack of open discussion regarding contraception and infertility, how has attitudes toward these issues changed over the last few decades? How has COVID-19 impacted these attitudes?
In Asia, we see many countries facing declining birth rates and women choosing to have babies later in life. With this comes greater interest and acceptance of reproductive technologies and fertility treatments when the time comes and they feel ready to build their family. In Singapore, the government subsidises up to 75 per cent of reproductive technology treatment costs for qualified couples under its national savings programme. This shows that despite cultural perceptions about infertility, there is now a greater recognition of its importance and subsequent action to increase access for patients.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a new set of challenges to women considering fertility treatment. In our recent survey on post-COVID women’s healthcare challenges in Singapore, we found that many of the women seeking fertility treatment had their plans impacted. Half reported concerns about the cost of treatment due to the impact of the pandemic on their financial situation. In addition, two-thirds indicated longer waiting times for treatment or closure of clinics they were attending.
3. In a bid to preserve fertility in an ageing population, the Singapore government will allow women between 21 to 35 to freeze their eggs from 2023. From the survey conducted by Organon, 75 per cent of women responded that this will impact their family planning considerations. What are some of the biggest advantages of egg freezing?
While women’s fertility is highest in their early twenties, the average age of first-time mothers is increasing for multiple reasons including women pursuing education and career opportunities, people meeting the right partner later in life, and couples’ desires to be economically secure before becoming parents. Egg freezing can help provide women and couples with the option of having genetically related children at a later time. For women who want children in the future but are not ready or able to do so in the present, this can help lessen the risk of not being able to conceive, when it is the right time.
4. Apart from egg freezing, what are some other innovative fertility and infertility treatments available to us?
All families are different, but equally as beautiful. Some of today’s families have grown in part thanks to in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), intrauterine insemination (IUI), egg and sperm donation, and egg freezing. Every year, for example, approximately 500,000 babies are born worldwide through IVF and ICSI. Organon supports all aspiring parents on their journey to grow their family and advocates for an inclusive and personalised approach to fertility treatment, care and support.
5. According to Organon’s survey, about 46 per cent of Singaporean women stated that they were easily able to obtain information on holistic family planning advice. This indicates that a significant number of women still do not have easily accessible information on family planning. What more can be done to bridge this information gap?
It is important to increase access to resources and information that helps inform and empower women, couples, and families to navigate the process of fertility care. For this, we need to start much earlier so young women not only know how to avoid unintended pregnancies but also how to safeguard the possibility of having children, even if it is later in life. Many only obtain the necessary information when it is very late.
6. With regards to reproductive health, how do other parts of Southeast Asia differ from Singapore in terms of the obstacles to spreading awareness on this topic?
The Southeast Asia region is home to diverse cultures and beliefs and its countries are at different stages of their healthcare systems when it comes to access to reproductive health services, education, and family planning. Despite some ongoing challenges, progress has been made to improve public dialogue and government policies in this space.
Additionally, like many countries in our region, Singapore is currently experiencing population changes such as declining birth rates combined with increasing numbers of elderly people. Due to the broad implications on the economy and society of these challenges, governments are now exploring policies that support sustainable and inclusive population growth through “smart” family planning.
Last year, the Prime Minister’s Office backed a Singapore General Hospital and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital joint study to determine if a better understanding of fertility issues and fertility treatments might influence couples in their decision-making around starting families. Results will only be available three years from now, but I believe we, in the meantime, can start working together, public and private stakeholders, to address the challenges.
7. Moving forward, what can women of Southeast Asia look forward to in the reproductive health space in a post-pandemic world?
According to our survey of women in Singapore, 40 per cent of women aged 30-34 cited wanting to wait until they are older as the reason for not having children. The accessibility of information on infertility treatments and egg freezing further enables women to have children at a point in their lives where they are more settled in life and with their careers.
Since entering the market about a year ago, Organon has been committed to listening and understanding the needs of women. Through listening, we can better identify unmet medical needs and work with governments and stakeholders across the healthcare landscape to find and implement solutions. We believe that when women rise, we all rise — and that when women are healthy and empowered, so are their families and communities. [APBN]
About the Interviewee
Andreas Joergensen is Managing Director for the SEA Cluster (South, East and Southeast Asia) at Organon, a spinoff of MSD focused on women’s health. He started his career in the biopharma industry as a Health Economist at MSD Denmark and was Managing Director of MSD in Denmark and Iceland before joining Organon in February 2021.
Andreas graduated with a Masters of Political Science from the University of Copenhagen in 2007, specialising in Health Economics and Health Care Managing.